Communications in Québec

What is distinctive about communications in Québec is the existence of 2 often competing media serving different cultures and, above all, the ways in which francophone media have expressed or reinforced the character of French Canada.

Communications in Québec

What is distinctive about communications in Québec is the existence of 2 often competing media serving different cultures and, above all, the ways in which francophone media have expressed or reinforced the character of French Canada. The development of communications in Québec is associated with an underlying constitutional conflict between Québec City and Ottawa. The government of Québec, basing its position on jurisdiction over language, education and culture, claims complete authority for communications in the province. The scope of the political battle can only be fully understood when viewed in terms of the linguistic and cultural situation of Québec in North America. The evolution of the media is intimately linked with the process of modernization that has been under way in Québec since WWII, particularly the political and cultural upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s.

The federal-provincial battle over communications began in 1929, the year in which the Aird Report was published, when the TASCHEREAU government adopted the first "law respecting broadcasting in this province." In 1931 subsequent Québec legislation concerning radio led to court action by the federal government, which won its case before the Supreme Court of Canada. Québec appealed to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London, which in 1932 confirmed the verdict of the Supreme Court. The reasoning invoked in support of the federal position was based on an interpretation of paragraph 10 of s92 of the CONSTITUTION ACT, 1867, which makes reference to the telegraph, the only modern method of communication in existence at the time of Confederation. Radio communication was likened to the telegraph in that radio waves could not easily be contained within the borders of a province.

Because the media are major instruments for promoting and broadcasting information, successive Québec governments have claimed responsibility for matters relating to cultural development. In 1945 Maurice DUPLESSIS adopted an "Act authorizing the creation of a provincial broadcasting service," but it was not until 1968 that Radio-Québec was founded. In 1972 the educational network of Radio-Québec offered several hours of programming on cable and in 1975 began broadcasting on UHF.

The Daniel JOHNSON government created Québec's Department of Communications in 1969, and in 1972 the Robert BOURASSA government broadened the mandate of the Régie des services publics (Public Service Board) to "the broadcasting, transmission and reception of sounds, images, signs, signals, data or messages by wire, cable, waves, or any electrical, electronic, magnetic, electromagnetic or optical means." The major issue was control of CABLE TELEVISION broadcasting, as the CRTC and the Régie both claimed authority for granting licences. In 1977 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of the federal government, granting it exclusive jurisdiction.

The birth of broadcasting in Montréal took place in 1919 with the inauguration of station XWA (since 1991 CIQC). In 1932 CKAC became the first French-language radio station. The advent of television and its rapid development in the 1950s helped pave the way for the QUIET REVOLUTION, in particular the program "Point de Mire," with host René LÉVESQUE. Francophone NEWSPAPERS, MAGAZINES, novelists and singers also contributed to the revolution. The francophone advertising industry, once little more than a translation service, after 1960 broke free from Anglo control to embrace the French Canadian milieu. The media drew inspiration from and encouraged the creative turmoil that marked all aspects of culture at the end of the Duplessis regime; certain radio and television programs were very successful (see RADIO DRAMA, FRENCH-LANGUAGE; RADIO PROGRAMMING; TELEVISION PROGRAMMING). In the early 1970s open-line radio programs became popular to a degree rarely equalled elsewhere. Novels adapted for television - the typical Québec formula for dramatic series - experienced a popularity that has not declined over the years (see TELEVISION DRAMA, FRENCH-LANGUAGE). Variety shows involving audience participation were also successful.

As of 1999 the CRTC had given licences to 87 AM and 277 FM stations in Québec and to 440 TV stations. In addition there are 6 PAY TELEVISION networks. The print media consisted of 12 dailies, 102 regional periodicals, 122 specialized periodicals and 120 miscellaneous ones.

Despite constant financing and distribution difficulties, Québec FILM directors have made significant contributions to the development of their art, particularly in what is known as cinéma-vérité or cinéma-direct. Several others are well known for their research in cinematography.

Since 1960 a series of original experiments have been made in Québec in which the media are used for educational, social and cultural purposes. Québec has earned an international reputation as a testing ground for social communications. In the early 1960s, as part of the work for the Bureau d'aménagement de l'est du Québec (BAEQ) and the Aménagement rural et développement agricole (ARDA), some film documentaries were produced for use in group discussions. The NATIONAL FILM BOARD, especially in its "Challenge for Change" ("Société nouvelle") program, was active in Québec and across Canada in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Over the past few years, Le Groupe de recherches sociales has brought together the pioneers in cinéma d'intervention, whose circle now includes video groups (see VIDEO ART). Their productions are used in various social movements.

In 1967-68 the Québec Dept of Education established a daring educational television pilot (TEVEC) in Saguenay-Lac Saint-Jean. Its success led to the introduction of an even larger and more ambitious program, Multi-Média, serving a number of regions in the province.

The 1970s saw the birth of several experiments in community media, the first of which was community television, the broadcasting by cable of programs that varied greatly in quantity and quality. Financing, recruitment and organizational problems, as well as battles over ideology, resulted in many of these cable groups closing down after a short period of operation. In addition, the Supreme Court's 1977 decision on cable broadcasting cooled the ardour of the Ministry of Communications and its enthusiasm for giving financial support to these experiments through its community media assistance program.

Community radio started more slowly but is now growing rapidly. Nineteen such stations are in operation and every year new ones go on the air on the FM band. Less burdensome in financing and cost of operations, they fill gaps in local and regional information. The ARCQ, L'Association des radiodiffuseurs communautaires du Québec, organized the first world conference on community radio in Montréal in August 1983.

Québec is attempting to meet the challenges posed by the development of new communications technology. The multiplication of available television channels is but one symptom of the danger of American cultural influences. The rapid expansion of cable broadcasting, computers, office automation systems and telematics requires prompt action on the part of Québecois wishing to develop a domestic software and hardware industry. As in the past, the small size of Québec's domestic market makes this an even more difficult task.


Further Reading

  • CRTC Annual Report 1986-1987; Government of Québec, Québec: Mastercraftsman of Its Own Communications Policy (1973); J.P. LaFrance and C. Gousse, eds, La Télévision payante: Jeux et enjeux (1982); Ministère des Communications, Gouvernement du Québec, Le Québec et les communications: Un futur simple? (1983).